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A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s AT 45 (9)

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON WEDNESDAY 4 JUNE 2008
(and again on 29 October 2013)

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Dave and The Cat, the two bright lads behind the Jock’n’Roll website came up with the brilliant concept a couple of years back to try to find out what was the best ever Scottish single by asking folk to send in their Top 10s by e-mail.

The idea proved incredibly popular as sad blokes like me sent in lists that made the case for long-forgotten tracks by equally long-forgotten acts. The rules were pretty easy and straightforward – the songs in question had to have been a single and the act had to have been Scottish.

This didn’t stop your humble scribe falling foul of the rules – I was certain that Musette and Drums by The Cocteau Twins had been a single or at the very least part of an EP, and so put it forward within my particular 10. I was completely wrong – it was only ever an LP track, and so I was invited to re-submit.

As for whether an act was Scottish or not, this was entirely down to Dave and The Cat. For instance, Lloyd Cole (born in Derby) was allowed in on the basis that the remainder of the Commotions were Scottish. Rod Stewart (born London) was not allowed in despite most Americans believing he was the most famous Scottish singer on the planet.

Before long, some newspapers and radio stations picked up on what was happening and the boys began to began to be interviewed about things. What seemed to most get the attention of the media was the fact that the song destined to be #1 was wholly unexpected.

I’m not sure if the majority of those who voted in the Jock’n’Roll poll actually chose Party Fears Two as their all time #1 Scottish single. However, I would place a very large wager that maybe as many as 75-80% of voters will have found a spot for it somewhere in their Top 10 thus giving it more than enough votes overall to take the top position.

Click here for the full rundown

There’s just something about Associates and Billy MacKenzie that makes people get all nostalgic and proud that they and he came from Scotland. When the band seemingly burst onto the scene out of nowhere in 1982, it was with songs that were genuinely unlike anything else you had ever heard. Even all these years later, the stuff still sounds incredibly vibrant, fresh and unique, and very difficult to categorise. It’s just so much easier to have a listen to the breakthrough single and its b-side (which is a different version from that on the LP Sulk) :-

mp3 : Associates – Party Fears Two
mp3 : Associates – It’s Better This Way

Billy had a mischievous wit and charm that endeared him to his fans. He always seemed to have a twinkle in his eye whenever he was on TV. This was a band that seemingly wanted to put fun back into pop music without diluting its quality. The appearances on Top Of The Pops soon became must see affairs, culminating in one time where Alan Rankine turned up with a chocolate guitar (£2,000 from Harrods) and broke it up into pieces to give to the audience while Billy and the others mimed away trying to avoid getting a fit of the giggles.

And although the band were based out of necessity in London, Billy in particular seemed to love just taking the piss out the capital and talked lovingly of his home country, and in particular his home city of Dundee.

You couldn’t help but like Alan and Billy as people – the fact that they were making incredible music was an amazing bonus.

Having discovered them via the hit singles, it was easy to see by delving into the back catalogue that the poppy stuff wasn’t typical of the band. Where they went from here was always going to be interesting. Sadly, 1982 with its hit singles and the consequent masterpiece LP was the last Associates work that the duo produced.

Alan chose to leave the band but Billy carried on, drafting in other musicians to work alongside.

It’s all too evident more than 25 years later to realise just how integral Alan was to the sound and look of Associates. There was also a particular chemistry between him and Billy that was never ever recaptured in full, despite an awful lot of the post-Sulk recordings being tremendous pieces of work with some amazing vocals from Billy.

January 2007 was the 10th anniversary of the death of Billy Mackenzie, and I paid a long tribute to the man in the pages of this blog. At the time, I said his legacy is a volume of work that has highs and lows, albeit one that is dominated by that 1982/83 era of Sulk. Even if that had been the only LP he had ever made, Billy would still be a legend in pop music. I stand by that statement……

(That posting, incredibly, was one that I was able to retrieve from the limited archive acess I had at the old blog. I re-posted it in August 2013.  If you would like to read the full tribute, you can click here).

(I later did an equally lengthy piece on Alan but alas it is lost forever thanks to bastard google acting on dmca notices.)

 

BILLY MACKENZIE RARITIES….COURTESY OF SID LAW (7)

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noise1a

A very welcome one-off summer special…….

Happy Summer Holidays Mr Vinyl Villain! I’ve been enjoying the Altered Images series and the Devoto “Rainy Season” was good to hear again. I remember being in the front row of an Edinburgh Fringe Show with Claire a few years back (and I still have a lovely signed risque poster). It was called “Lady MacBeth Firmed My Buttocks” and was a delight… however I digress.

I attach a completely unreleased track by The Associates featuring Billy and Alan. It is a cover of Paul Ryan’s song which was a big hit for brother Barry Ryan. Billy loved those kinda “Cabaret” Bacharach style, full-blown songs. On “Eloise” we can hear a young Billy (probably 1979) crooning his way through Rankine’s punky, guitar driven arrangement. Probably recorded at Craighall Studios in Trinity Edinburgh in 1979 with the same unnamed “Cabaret Musicians” responsible for the demos which were released as “Double Hipness” by Virgin in 2000.

Enjoy

Sid

mp3 : Associates – Eloise

JC adds…………It’s a long long way from the sounds that became the hits.  As Sid says it is very punky and having been lucky enough to see the Big Gold Dream documentary the other week it is very clear that the boys fitted in perfectly to the scene that was building up in and around the capital city in the late 70s.

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #15 : ASSOCIATES

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If I was to ever make up an imaginary 10-track compilation by this lot then I’m 99.99% certain today’s song would be the opener

mp3 : Associates – White Car In Germany

A piece of music that was recorded thirty four (!!) years ago and yet still sounds ridiculously fresh and new today.

Enjoy

 

 

 

BILLY MACKENZIE RARITIES…COURTESY OF SID LAW (5)

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Billy tay bridge with Wild and Lonely

After being dropped by Warners in 1988, Billy quickly put some demos together with Blair Booth and Philip Erb (who he had recorded “Cinemas Of the World” with) and secured a deal with Virgin subsidiary Circa. The result was 1990’s “Wild And Lonely” a record much maligned by many Associates and MacKenzie fans. There are a number of reasons for this but the main one is that while the rest of the UK had romped through the 2nd Summer of Love in 1988 and two years later Acid House, House, Hip-Hop and sample-tastic dance music was filling the charts, “Wild And Lonely” had been produced by Julian Mendelsohn and it sounded slick and well – a bit like 1986. “Wild” and “Lonely” were two of Billy’s Whippets by the way…

My favourite track from this era is a B-side track from the single “Fire To Ice” called “The Glamour Chase” – an Abba-like paean to lost hope, shattered dreams and dented pride. The song refers to the ditched Warners album, Billy’s stalled career and the cost of the quest for fame (“Quality knows what is insincere/ All is not what it seems to appear/ Searching for what in this emptiness/ Why all this sudden need to impress/ Why must we always think we know best/ Knowing you’re wanting a part of me/ Only protects that same part of me”).

mp3 : Associates – The Glamour Chase

Billy insisted the track was included on the UK version of the “Wild And Lonely” CD and it was the only track on the album which Julian Mendelsohn didn’t produce. Billy produced it.

Sid Law

JC adds (in August 2015)….

The marvellous illustration above is the work of Stuart Murray, but I only discovered this many months later via the comments section.

It was done by Stuart me for a book called The Great Scots Musicography in 2003 (a tome from which I draw much of the info that subsequently appears in postings), and Stuart says it was one of his favourites for the book. You can check out more recent work of his at http://www.thefolkyebumpintae.wordpress.com

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SINGLE (Part 131)

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Notwithstanding that the ‘A’ side of this single featured very recently in Sid Law’s wonderful mini-series, as I have a copy of the 12″ single it merits a slot within the Saturday Single.

39 Lyon Street was a one-off single project created by Associates. The group used an alternative name to exercise a clause in their contract with WEA that stated they could record for any label they desired, so long as the A-side was not credited to Associates.

I’ve pinched this from a now defunct blog called Retro Dundee:-

lyon street mid 80s - Copy

This is how Lyon Street looked back in the 1980’s. A typical Dundee street that you would pass going into the city centre. In the early 80’s, however, something was brewing at number 39. A wee social gathering of creative musicians were busy producing acts who would go on to record some classy alternative pop music.

This is where Billy Mackenzie & Alan Rankine of The Associates were living, along with others. In amongst the others were Christine Beveridge & Steve Reid who went on to record as Orbidoig, releasing a couple of singles. A cross-pollination of The Associates & Orbidoig created a 3rd act called…39 Lyon Street. They also released a single, called “Kites”, which was a cover of the Simon Dupree hit from the psychedelic 60’s.

And here we are:-

mp3 : 39 Lyon Street – Kites
mp3 : Associates – A Girl Named Property

And that dear readers, brings to an end this alphabetical and numerical run through some of the 45s that I have in the cupboard of vinyl or shelves of CD from Scottish acts.

Next week, I’m going to start all over again but this time looking at albums as well as singles or indeed featuring songs that I only have via compilations.

BILLY MACKENZIE RARITIES…COURTESY OF SID LAW (3)

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TheAudienceThatFellToEarth

Okay it is 1988. It has been nearly three years since The Associates last LP “Perhaps”. The slightly techno friendly cover of Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass” has not set the charts alight despite a slew of formats (three 12″ versions, CD single, 7″ single, a 3D printed sleeve with some special glasses inside the sleeve etc). Billy has an album sitting in the can, Shirley Bassey has just covered one of his songs with Yello. In a quick series of moves Warners dropped Billy from their label and stopped the release of the already completed album “The Glamour Chase” dead in its tracks.

Three years of work on “The Glamour Chase” album and a decade of writing, recording and gigging. Now labell-less, deal-less and all his material in the can in a Warners basement and staying there. It is hard to comprehend that kind of blow. But a mighty blow it certainly was. After being dropped from the label over lunch in a Mayfair restaurant, Billy asked the record company executive given the task of dining and dropping him for a cab home on the record company account. The exec readily agreed and in a legendary move Billy took a cab home – all the way from London to Dundee.

“The Glamour Chase” did not surface in a proper release until 2002 when it was thrown in as a non-ironic freebie with the first CD release of 1985’s “Perhaps”. Some of it is fairly pedestrian lightweight, late 80’s funky standard pop stuff but there are some tremendous songs on it (particularly the Boris Blank produced Because You Love, Snowball, The Rhythm Divine and In Windows All) but perhaps the real standout track was a song Billy had been playing live for a few years called “Empires Of Your Heart” and everyone should hear it. Listen to this… can you believe a record company dropped this guy and left this kind of material in the can?

mp3 : Associates – Empires Of Your Heart

I also attach a track from a bootleg called “The Audience That Fell To Earth”. Billy MacKenzie with Paul Haig and some others performing “Empires Of Your Heart” at Wilkie House on 14 September 1986.

mp3 : Billy Mackenzie/Paul Haig – Empires Of Your Heart (live)

Cheers
Sid Law

BILLY MACKENZIE : 27 MARCH 1957 – 22 JANUARY 1997

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Billy with his whippetts

From Sid Law:-

I don’t know what Billy Mackenzie might make of the music scene in Scotland today. Maybe Billy would have got his performance thing back and could have sung publicly again. I remember seeing Roland Gift about fifteen years back at the Speigeltent in Edinburgh one Festival and thinking “Billy should be here doing this…”.

I think the abiding thing I got from Billy and his music in the early 80’s was his playfulness and fun. Every TV appearance was hilarious (ever seen him do Amazing Grace with Paul Haig at Hogmanay?). He was dead cool, wrote some marvellous songs, had a voice to rival anyone and made it all seem like falling off a log. His death was due to Chronic Depression (the prescription drug mechanism is unimportant). When you look at how he was treated during his last ten years by the Music Business you can see how a soul like Billy could be damaged. Yet he really soared in his later work in the more free, more independent atmosphere of the mid 90’s. The shackles were off and he seemed to have such confidence in his abilities and a real command of his voice and… and then he was gone. At the top of his game.  And that is what I hope some of the upcoming postings over the next few weeks will demonstrate.

Billy recorded four albums with Alan Rankine (well two albums and one compilation and one remix album) all of which are great but then there were only another four albums afterwards (including Billy’s solo one and the then unreleased ‘Glamour Chase’) before he died.  What is often forgotten is just how many collaborations there were, partly because when  Billy had label problems (and he always did) he just looked around and did something else. Again, some of the upcoming postings will hopefully demonstrate that such collaborations, many of which were completed shortly before his death, have a quality of performance that are simply breathtaking.

One of the periods when Billy found himself in the frustrating position of having a record company that didn’t want to put out his records was in the late 80’s . Thankfully his pals like Yello and Uno (Philip Erb and Blair Booth) were happy to have Billy sing on their records. The track Cinemas Of The World appeared as a 12″ extended version and a 7″ mix. It didn’t sell. Nor did the subsequent Uno album “Uno” which also featured Jimmy Sommerville. So here is Billy in the hard-to-get-anything-released days of 1987.

mp3 : Uno (featuring Billy Mackenzie) – Cinemas of The World

 

McIntosh Patrick - Sidlaw Vista

Going back further in time, the first Associates album “The Affectionate Punch” is always worth a listen.

Released in 1980, it is a stunning debut and a strange mixture of Bowie, Roxy and breathless gallivanting bravado and still an exhilarating listen. The title track is a total blast and “A Matter Of Gender” is a surge of a song to hear at any time. But one song which connected with me back then and still finds its way onto my car-cassette is “Logan Time”.

I don’t know what the song is about, but at Liff (just down the hill from Auchterhouse) there is a road called “The Logan” and the Loganberry was developed in the berryfields around Dundee. Maybe it is about that time of year, maybe it is about something else entirely. Probably. But the song is a career highlight vocal performance from Billy and shows a maturity and musical scope and range which was the mark of Billy MacKenzie and Alan Rankine’s work together.

The image above is a view of the Sidlaw Hills by MacKintosh Patrick. Billy spent a lot of his time here at Scotstoun Cottage. He would walk his dogs over the fields and up around Auchterhouse Hill.

mp3 : Associates -Logan Time

39 Lyon StreetBilly in The Crypt

Billy was forever creating new Associates (whoever he was recording with was an Associate). His entire career is one long list of collaborations from Strange News, Skids, Orbidoig, Annie Lennox, 39 Lyon Street, Yello, Uno, Loom, Apollo 440, Barry Adamson etc. The list is a very long one.

This version of Simon Dupree and The Big Sound’s “Kites” was an early contract- challenging release where Billy was allowed to record a single for another label but was forbidden to sing lead vocal on the A-side of any such single. Christine Beveridge found herself breathlessly whispering a nervous lead vocal while Billy belted out the choruses lying on his back on the studio floor.

I love the arrangement on this 12″ version. It grooves along with fellow Associate Alan Rankine covering the instruments. It was released in May 1981 and didn’t trouble the charts. I think it is a total gem and typical of Billy and Alan’s rapid working methods during 1981-82 when a prolific period saw no less than eleven singles recorded and released.

mp3 : 39 Lyon Street – Kites (12″ version)

 

 

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